• 'The Great Leap:' 5 Things we learned at first rehearsal

    by John Moore | Jan 12, 2018
    The making of 'The Great Leap'Check out our full gallery of photos from the first rehearsal for 'The Great Leap.' To see more, click on the image above to be taken to our full Flickr gallery. Photos by Sam Adams John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Newest Denver Center world premiere is a basketball story that already has a road trip scheduled after its home opener 

    Rehearsals began Tuesday for the third of three soon-to-be simultaneous DCPA Theatre Company world-premiere plays. And, like American Mariachi, when Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap finishes its inaugural run in Denver on March 11, it’s hitting the road with its cast and creative team intact.

    The Great Leap, about a college basketball team that travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game in the post-Cultural Revolution 1980s, is a co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre, where it will run from March 23 to April 22. The play will then make its New York premiere opening May 23 at the Atlantic Theatre Company with its own, different cast and creative team.

    “We are excited for this play to have a long and successful life, and we are honored to be premiering it here at the Denver Center,” said Associate Artistic Director Charlie Miller.

    Yee was commissioned to write The Great Leap for the Denver Center in 2015. The play was first introduced to audiences a year ago as a reading at the Denver Center’s Colorado New Play Summit. The dramaturg was, and remains, Kristin Leahey of Seattle Rep.

    The Great Leap Lauren Yee Photo by John Moore“The Denver Center has been so welcoming in inviting us to be a part of this wonderful journey with this fantastic play,” Leahey said at the opening rehearsal. “We are so thrilled to continue on this journey together, and we hope you all join us in Seattle for the next iteration of the show.”

    Since the Summit, Yee has aggressively developed her story, workshopping the play at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis and at New York Stage and Film. “So it’s done a mini-United States tour already, and it hasn’t even opened yet,” Miller said. "There is already a lot of positive buzz about this play throughout the field."

    The Great Leap focuses on a short kid from San Francisco’s Chinatown named Manford who talks his way onto the China-bound exhibition team and soon finds himself inadvertently embroiled in international politics. "It's really the story of a young Chinese-American kid who goes to China to learn something about himself as a basketball player, as an American, and as someone of Chinese descent," Yee said. "And I think it is about how sports and politics intersect and mirror one another."

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    The story is told "with a ton of heart and is also very funny," Miller added, "but it is told with a historical and political backdrop that also gives people an interesting window into Tiananmen Square and the cultural revolution in China. It’s not often that you have a play about sports that also deals with so many other bigger issues.”

    The remarkable thing about the play to Director Eric Ting is its utter originality. After all, how many plays have there ever been about a Chinese-American basketball player? “A young Asian man on a basketball team is already an uncommon affair,” Ting said. “Manford is a person without a place wherever he is — which is a story I think many of us are very familiar with. We want to make sure this play is a celebration of what it means to be different.”

    Here are five quick things we learned at first rehearsal:

    NUMBER 1The Great Leap Eric Ting Photo by John MooreTiana who what where? One thing that has caught Ting off-guard over the past year is discovering how many young people have never heard of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Which, if you are over 30, probably just made your back ache. But it’s a rather central plot point, so here is a refresher: The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital city of Beijing in the summer of 1989. The protests, primarily targeting government corruption, lack of transparency and freedom of speech in post-Mao China, were forcibly suppressed after the government declared martial law. Troops with automatic rifles and tanks killed several hundred demonstrators trying to block the military's advance toward Tiananmen Square. The number of civilian deaths has been reported variously from 180 to 10,000. The enduring image from all that bloodshed was of a lone unidentified man dressed in a white shirt and holding a shopping bag who stood in front of a column of tanks. He became known around the world only as “Tank Man,” a powerful symbol of both violence and non-violent resistance.

    NUMBER 2Founding father. The inspiration for the play is Yee's father who, like the fictional Manford, grew up in Chinatown. “Before my father had children, the only thing he was good at was playing basketball,” said Yee. In 1981, he was invited with some of his American teammates to play a series of exhibition games throughout China. “My father had never been to China,” said Yee. “They played in 10,000-seat stadiums. The games were broadcast back on American television. And when I asked him, ‘Did you win?’ he told me, ‘We got demolished almost every single game.’ And that was because my father was the center — and he is only 6-foot-1. Their tallest player was 7-foot-6 and 350 pounds. My dad said, 'Nobody wanted to guard this guy,’ and they got creamed.”

    NUMBER 3The game is afoot. Even though the play has very little actual basketball game play in it, “there is a rhythm and an energy to the script that should make you feel like you have just been through a basketball game,” Ting said. "The scenes move like a game, and are quick in transition," Yee added. But that doesn’t mean the storytelling is always kinetic. “Basketball isn't just about movement,” Ting said. “It's also about stillness. It's about holding your ground. It's about finding each other in the space.”

    (Story continues below the video.)

    Video bonus: Our interview with Lauren Yee from the Colorado New Play Summit

    Th title of Lauren Yee's play changed three times during development before settling on 'The Great Leap.' Video above by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk and Senior Arts Journalist John Moore.

    Read more: Our complete interview with Lauren Yee

    NUMBER 4The enduring Dream. When Ting first read The Great Leap, he made the not-so-great leap to the archetypal American Dream. “It is very hard to underestimate the profound impact the possibility of the American Dream has on all the immigrants of this Earth, and the role this nation has played, historically, in inspiring people to make change,” Ting said. “One reason this play is important right now is to remind of that role we still play as a country. This is a play about what it means to dream and pursue something."  

    NUMBER 5Team Uncommon. The returning Scenic Designer is Wilson Chin, who blew audiences away last season with his singular vision for the DCPA Theatre Company’s The Secret Garden. “That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” Chin said. “I really fell in love with the Denver Center, and I fell in love with this town." With The Great Leap, Chin is now part of something almost completely unheard of: A primarily Chinese-American creative team telling a Chinese-American story for a theatre that does not routinely tell Chinese-American stories. That group includes the playwright, director, costume designer and cast. “Eric and I have done a few shows together, but in all my years of working in the theatre, that has never happened before," Chin said. "To get to tell a Chinese-American story with other Chinese-Americans is moving, and it’s thrilling. I can't wait for us to go down this road together.”

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center's Senior Arts Journalist.

    The Great Leap: Cast and creatives

    • Written by Lauren Yee
    • Directed by Eric Ting
    • Scenic Designer: Wilson Chin
    • Costume Designer: Valérie Thérèse Bart
    • Lighting Designer: Christopher Kuhl
    • Sound Designer: Curtis Craig
    • Projection Design: Shawn Duan
    • Dramaturg: Kristin Leahey
    • Stage Manager: Jessica Bomball
    • Assistant Stage Manager: D. Lynn Reiland


    • Bob Ari as Saul
    • Keiko Green as Connie
    • Linden Tailor as Manford
    • Joseph Steven Yang as Wen Chang

    The Great Leap: Ticket information
    GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • Performances Feb. 2-March 11
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $30
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

    Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
    Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
    Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

  • 'Smart People' opens rehearsals in full swing

    by John Moore | Sep 21, 2017
    Making of 'Smart People'

    Photos from the first day of rehearsal for the DCPA Theatre Company's 'Smart People,' which features Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Sharp comedy takes on the ways in which racism pervades American culture just as the national pendulum swings.

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Smart People is a thought-provoking new comedy about all the ways in which racism pervades American culture. And it took playwright Lydia R. Diamond eight years to finish it.

    Imagine taking on that incendiary subject just as Barack Obama was about to assume the presidency, and completing it the same year he would cede it to Donald Trump.

    "She started the play at one time in our collective zeitgeist, and she finished it at a completely different time in our collective zeitgeist,” DCPA Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett said Tuesday at the opening rehearsal for Smart People, which marks her Denver directorial debut. 

    Smart PeopleThe collective national pendulum, as gravity seemingly demands, had fully swung. And Garrett believes the only way today’s highly polarized Americans are ever going to find common ground and genuine connection again is if they slow down and stop talking long enough to meet somewhere in the middle.

    "What's so awesome about something swinging wildly back and forth is the part that's in the middle," said Garrett. "Not the extremes where we all seemingly live now, but the space where we do come together and we are able to find intersection.”

    And that’s what Diamond butts up against in her critically acclaimed, four-person comedy that has its first performance Oct. 13 in the Ricketson Theatre.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Diamond’s story, set on the eve of Obama’s historic 2008 presidential election, centers on four "smart people" with Harvard connections: A surgeon, an actress, a psychologist and a neuro-psychiatrist who is studying how the brain responds to race. As their relationships evolve, the four discover that their motivations and interpretations are not as pure as their wealth of knowledge would have them believe.

    Diamond was inspired to write Smart People by a news report about an actual neuroscientist who was studying the potential link between bias and brain chemistry. He hypothesized that a person's chemical composition can cause him to be biased, prejudiced or racist.

    "For me, the play is kind of like going back to the scene of the crime: Going back to the beginning of something to try to figure out where we are now," said Garrett.

    “This play intersects with these four highly intellectual people who keep smacking up against each other like two rocks trying to make a spark. They are trying figure out, 'Well why don't you believe what I believe? Because if I believe that something is really important and true, then you should also have that belief.’

    “That's what sparks the comedy: You have these four sexy, crazy people who are almost too smart for their own good all colliding around these ideas. But if they could just stop talking and give in to each other's ideas, they might actually be able to hear something.

    “I think ultimately, Smart People is a call for people to listen."

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.  

    Smart People: Ticket information
    SmartPeople_show_thumbnail_160x160Lydia R. Diamond. This acclaimed new play is a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life.

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • First performance Oct. 13, through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Previous NewsCenter coverage of Smart People:
    Cast announced for Smart People: Fresh and familiar
  • Cast announced for DCPA's 'Smart People': Fresh and familiar

    by John Moore | Sep 19, 2017

    Smart People
    From left: Tatiana Williams, Timothy McCracken, Jason Veasey and Esther Chen.

    The DCPA Theatre Company has announced the full cast and creative team for its upcoming production of Lydia R. Diamond's Smart People, featuring the Denver directorial debut of Associate Artistic Director Nataki Garrett. The production includes:

    • Esther Chen as Ginny Yang
    • Timothy McCracken as Brian White
    • Jason Veasey as Jackson Moore
    • Tatiana Williams as Valerie Johnston

    McCracken, a graduate of the DCPA's National Theatre Conservatory and now the Head of Acting for DCPA Education, has previously appeared in Theatre Company productions of A Christmas Carol, Jackie and Me, The Giver and others.

    A Smart People 360 Jaso VeasayVeasey, a native of Colorado Springs, graduated from Coronado High School and the University of Northern Colorado. His local credits include playing Jesus in Town Hall Arts Center's Godspell in 2003 (pictured right), and the ensemble in the Arvada Center's Ragtime. Last year, he performed in the Henry Award-nominated Best Musical Motones vs. Jerseys at the Lone Tree Arts Center. He made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of The Lion King.

    Garrett was profiled in American Theatre as “One to Watch,” saying she is attracted to “plays that impact us in tremendous ways, chasing us out of our comfort zones.”

    Veasay, Chen and Williams will be making their DCPA Theatre Company debuts in Diamond's acclaimed new play, a biting comedy that follows a quartet of Harvard intellectuals struggling to understand why the lives of so many people – including their own – continue to be undermined by race. No matter how hard they research, question and confront the issue, their own problems with self-awareness make it difficult to face the facts of life. Fiercely clever dialogue and energetic vignettes keep the laughs coming in a story that Variety calls “Sexy, serious and very, very funny.”

    Diamond’s award-winning plays have been produced throughout the country, including the 2011 Tony Award-nominated Broadway production Stick Fly.

    The creative team for Smart People will include:
    • Efren Delgadillo Jr. (Scenic Designer)
    • Lex Liang (Costume Designer, DCPA's Disgraced)
    • Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (Lighting Designer)
    • Curtis Craig (Sound Designer)
    • Kaitlyn Pietras (Projection Designer)
    • Lyle Raper (returning longtime Theatre Company Stage Manager)
    • Corin Ferris (Assistant Stage Manager).

    Smart People: Ticket information

    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • First performance Oct. 13, through Nov. 19
    • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
  • Five things we learned about 'Frankenstein'

    by John Moore | Oct 05, 2016

    From left: Kevin Copenhaver (costumes), Topher Blair (projections), Jason Sherwood (scenic design), Brian Tovar (lighting), Sam Buntrock (director), Curtis Craig (sound), and actors Max Woertendyke, Molly Carden and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick. Photo by McKenzie Kielman for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    "Perspectives" is a series of free conversations with DCPA Theatre Company cast and crew on the evening of each show's first preview performance (except A Christmas Carol). On Sept. 30, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was joined by nine members of the Frankenstein team. Here’s some of what we learned:

    1 PerspectivesThis is a stage play, but it might as well be an action film. Playwright Nick Dear's script consists of 30 scenes, but they take less than two hours to play out. "The first 20 scenes are over in the first half an hour," Director Sam Buntrock said. And why the eventual change in tempo? “At the beginning of the story, the Creature has almost no language skills, so the first five scenes have almost no dialogue. But as the Creature experiences more of the world, and as he learns to communicate better, the play elongates and becomes more conventional." 

    2 PerspectivesCostumer Kevin Copenhaver said the creative team was not interested in furthering the popular cultural depiction of Frankenstein as the neck-bolted, square-headed monster we know from the 1931 Boris Karloff film. Nor the more recent National Theatre approach in London, which turned the monster into something of a mod zipperhead. “When reading Mary Shelley’s book, I was really struck by when she said the Creature had yellow eyes,” Copenhaver said. So the two actors who play the Creature in Denver will be wearing yellow color contacts, and their teeth will be fitted with iron. “But otherwise the monster will appear to be disturbingly normal,” Copenhaver said, in part to force audiences to confront their own feelings about difference and “otherness.” The less freakish this Creature looks, the more disturbing it should be that this society rejects him anyway. (Photo: Sullivan Jones and Charlie Korman by AdamsVisCom.)

    3 PerspectivesJason Sherwood admitted that his vibrant scenic deign, which features one massive (and surprise) overhanging set piece, created a nightmare for Lighting Designer Brian Tovar and others on the creative team. Everywhere a lighting designer might normally expect to place lights, Sherwood has invaded his space with hanging set pieces, as well as accommodation for rain, snow and fire. “The whole team had to get creative all around because of me, and I apologize for that,” Sherwood said with a laugh.

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    4 Perspectives Frankenstein PerspectivesActors Sullivan Jones and Mark Junek, the actors who will alternate playing the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature, have been encouraged to go their own ways – and that freedom affects everyone else on and around the stage. Said ensemble actor Molly Carden: “One thing Sam kept repeating to us was, 'If you are going to have two people play the same role on different nights, you don't want it to be the same performance. That would be antithetical to the whole premise.' ” Or, as Buntrock puts it: “I can't cram one person's performance into another person's. Sometimes I have to keep reminding myself that this show is not the same for both people. It can't be.” That freedom not only means two actors interpreting the text differently, but also having the liberty to move about differently on the stage. That requires flexibility from the acting ensemble, the audience and even the technical crew - specifically, the person operating the lights. “That’s because Mark and Sullivan aren’t always in the same place on the stage each night, even though they are saying the same words,” actor Thaddeus Fitzpatrick said. (Photo: Sam Buntrock by By McKenzie Kielman for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

    5 PerspectivesDenver Center newcomer Max Woertendyke plays a gentleman named Felix de Lacey, a man who is devoted to his family and mistress. In fact, Felix is kind, educated, and gentle to all — save for the poor monster. Just a few months ago, Woertendyke was part of the Broadway ensemble of A View From the Bridge, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. “Just to clarify - I don’t think I was the one who got it for us,” joked Woertendyke, who understudied the roles of Louis and Marco.

    6 PerspectivesBonus: Mary Shelley’s source novel turns 200 years old this year. And yet surely some audience members will be experiencing the story for the first time. “I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone - but it's about a monster,” Buntrock said with a laugh.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    The next Perspectives will cover The Book of Will at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, in the Jones Theatre. It’s free.

    Photo gallery: The making of Frankenstein in Denver:

    'Frankenstein' in Denver

    To see more photos, click the arrow on the image above. All photos by John Moore and McKenzie Kielman for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    Frankenstein: Ticket information
    Frankenstein• Through Oct. 30
    • Stage Theatre
    • ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Oct. 23
    • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

    Previous NewsCenter coverage:

    Photos, video: Your first look at the making of Frankenstein
    : On the making of a two-headed monster
    Frankenstein and race: It IS a matter of black and white
    Breathing life into the Frankenstein set: 'It's alive!'
    A Frankenstein 'that will make The Bible look subtle'
    How Danny Boyle infused new life into Frankenstein
    Casting set for Frankenstein and The Glass Menagerie
    Introducing DCPA Theatre Company's 2016-17 season artwork
    Kent Thompson on The Bard, The Creature and the soul of his audience
    2016-17 season announcement

    Follow the DCPA on social media @DenverCenter and through the DCPA News Center

John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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